Sri Lankans who continue to arrive on foreign soil illegally are in fact economic migrants and not refugees
Posted on December 3rd, 2012

Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN, Geneva

Addressing the 101st Council Session of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva on Friday (30 November), Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinha has observed that emphasis by the international community that Sri Lanka is now free from the dangers that constrained it during the time of the conflict, has been an important factor for those who left the country as refugees during the time of the conflict to return, with the joint assistance of the host countries, and organizations such as the IOM.  However, at the same time illegal people-smuggling rings continue to rob families not only of their hard earned savings, but some times even their loved ones. Noting that the IOM, as well as a number of foreign governments, have in recent months acknowledged that the many Sri Lankans who continue to arrive on foreign soil illegally, are in fact economic migrants and not refugees, Ambassador Aryasinha said Sri Lanka remains committed to work with international partners toward raising awareness as to the dangers relating to illegal migration, with a view to end such practices.

 Full text of statement is given below;

Statement by His Excellency Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka Permanent Representative to the United Nations at the 101st Council Session of the International Organization for Migration30 November 2012

 Mr. Chairman,

 At the outset let me congratulate Ambassador Hannan on his election and for his leadership in steering our discussions. Allow me to also thank the Director General of the IOM for his comprehensive report, the Secretariat for facilitating our work for this session, and the IOM head of Mission and staff based in Colombo for their dedication.

 With nearly 1.7 million Sri Lankans working abroad, and foreign employment impacting nearly 23% of our population, the migration discourse has long been of utmost importance to Sri Lanka. As Sri Lankans from even the remotest areas migrate for work abroad, their remittances have become a driving force on poverty alleviation and rural development. Total remittances in 2011 was $ 5.14 Billion and this year it will increase to $ 6.0 Billion. This amount is equivalent to 8.2% of Sri Lanka’s GDP, 25% of total government revenue and 35% of total foreign exchange earnings. Migrant workers constitute 17% of our working population and this has also helped reduce our unemployment rate to 4% and poverty rate to 7%.

 Even as the relative share in the category of housemaids amongst those who seek employment abroad has continued to drop from 46% in 2009 to 41% in 2011, consistent with the GOSL’s present policy to promote more skilled & professional migration, in the recently announced 2013 budget Sri Lanka has allocated 300 Million Rupees for the setting up of two new Foreign Employment Technical Colleges to enhance the skills level of prospective migrant workers and to orient them to the requirements of the relevant employment markets. My delegation is  appreciative of the capacity-building and disaster risk reduction projects undertaken by IOM in the country to match requirements in receiving countries and for accreditation of our qualifications with foreign agencies.

 We are grateful to the IOM for the noteworthy assistance provided this year to repatriate a number of Sri Lankan migrants, and would like to explore the possibility of further strengthening collaboration between IOM and our Missions abroad in order to facilitate and streamline future repatriation measures. Conscious that communications is key to monitoring and ensuring the safety of migrant workers, Sri Lanka has recently introduced a system of issuing pre-loaded SIM cards to migrant workers before leaving the country, to be used in the country of destination. While the initiative has to date, covered a number of important destination countries, the country hopes to expand this number significantly by early 2013.

 In order to raise awareness with regard to the valuable contribution made by migrant workers toward the country, Sri Lanka commemorated the 18th international migration day last year with district based ceremonies, organized with assistance from the IOM and the ILO, identifying migrant workers as “ƒ”¹…”Rataviruwo’ “”…” our heroes abroad. This year the event hopes to establish a special organization to monitor the welfare of families of migrant workers with 1000 graduate development officers assigned to work at Pradeshiya Sabha level with this organization. As a means of assisting migrant workers equitably, the national budget for 2013 has sought to exempt individuals returning from foreign employment who invest their savings in new businesses, from all taxes payable on turnover, on profits and income, for a period of 5 years.

 With the end of the terrorist conflict that lasted more than 30 years, as you are aware Sri Lanka has begun a process to heal, rebuild and reconcile. In this regard we are thankful to the noteworthy role played by IOM in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation effort, with the economic and social reintegration programme, funded by Norway, which provided over 3,000 former LTTE cadres with the means and opportunity to start new livelihoods by providing training, tools, small grants and job placements. My delegation is confident that initiatives such as these will help expedite the process of returning the country to its full potential.

 The emphasis by the international community that Sri Lanka is now free from the dangers that constrained it during the time of the conflict, has been an important factor for those who left the country as refugees during the time of the conflict to return, with the joint assistance of the host countries, and organizations such as the IOM. As a result, families can once again be reunited with their loved ones, and Sri Lankans from across the globe are returning to their homes and to their regular lives. At the same time, illegal people-smuggling rings continue to rob families not only of their hard earned savings, but some times even their loved ones. It is noted that IOM, as well as a number of foreign governments, have in recent months acknowledged that the many Sri Lankans who continue to arrive on foreign soil illegally, are in fact economic migrants and not refugees. In this regard Sri Lanka remains committed to work with international partners toward raising awareness as to the dangers relating to illegal migration, with a view to end such practices.

 In conclusion Mr. Chairman, may I reaffirm my country’s commitment to these deliberations, and reiterate our continued cooperation with IOM.

 I thank you.

3 Responses to “Sri Lankans who continue to arrive on foreign soil illegally are in fact economic migrants and not refugees”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Wrong move.

    Let them go. They will be Canada’s burden if they go.

  2. Voice123 Says:

    Tamil asylum seekers in the West are once again cranking up highly emotional “torture” allegations by the Sri Lanka armed forces, police, CID, prison inmates and compulsory and discriminatory land acquisition in the “Tamil homeland”, registration of all Tamils in Colombo and government blocking of certain websites,rehabilitation of former LTTE cadres is “torture” etc etc. Some of them are having their deportation stayed by mere unproven allegations because western authorities and politicians are afraid of a social and political backlash if the assylum seekers are proved correct. (golayas can always be hired for the “proof” if nessary). They are quoting reports of:
    Amnesty International
    Tamilnet
    BBC Sinhala
    Asian Human Rights Commission
    The Guardian
    Daily Mirror Sri Lanka
    The Island Sri Lanka

    If the authorities are denying all these allegations, why cannot they ACHIEVE the necessary credibility to discredit and debunk all of these allegations in the West. If they can’t do it, people will conclude the assylum seekers are correct.

    Please government, anybody, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to debunk this media terror. If not, I fear the worst.

  3. Voice123 Says:

    No use sitting quietly, voting negatively to the above comment, acting with bravado or dismissiveness and hoping the whole problem will disappear! This sort of reaction is INTERPRETED as arrogance or guilty admission by the western decision makers and public. Like it or not they influence global opinion and policies. We can’t wish it away. It is not good for us. Torture allegations must be seriously addressed. Otherwise even our friends ant help us. I hope the people in the Defence Ministry, Police and armed services can read me. Use your common sense, these assylum seekers and LTTE supporting mafia HAVE declared Eelam War 5. This IS war. They are sniping at you and I. These unsubstantiated allegations, if not taken seriously by the government and people of Sri Lanka WILL lead to further death, disinvestments, boycotts and damage to the economy and good reputation of Sri Lanka. It will empty our coffers and weaken us. The government must treat this disinformation (if it is disinformation) as on par with ACTS OF TERRORISM and comprehensively and permanently DEBUNK them, not just for a handful of international politicians but in the international media and the minds of the public world wide. We are LOSING this media battle. A resurgence of lawlessness, terror and foreign interference WILL follow and innocent pople will be murdered unless the government and people ACT decisively NOW. They have a budget surplus. Use it intelligently to protect the country.

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